posted by The Guardian

study: 10:10 schools

Two schools are working hard on their 10%, with the help of free workshops from ActionAid

Children at Argyle primary school learn about climate change and<br />
the 10:10 initiative

Children at Argyle primary school learn about climate change and the 10:10 initiative in a workshop run by Actionaid. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Beneath the soaring ceiling of 4PD class, Susie Price is encouraging her year 4 pupils to think about how energy is wasted at Argyle primary school in north London.

"What sometimes rattles against the windows?" she asks. There's a pause before a small voice replies hesitantly:"Is it twigs?" Actually, Price explains, it's more likely to be wind. The Victorian windows are feeling their age. Paired with those high ceilings and the natural inclination of heat to rise, staff are fighting a losing battle.

It is these kind of challenges that the school's headteacher, Laura Wynne, and many others like her, are grappling with as they try to cut their carbon emissions by 10% for the 10:10 campaign.

"In the summer it's too hot and in the winter it's too cold," Wynne says. The school has been raising awareness of climate change and energy consumption issues for two years, with students appointed as "power rangers" to check lights and appliances are turned off, and doors and windows shut. But Argyle has been acquiring more and more computers and electronic whiteboards, and last year the bill for gas and electricity still came to £35,000.

Having signed up to 10:10 a couple of months ago, Wynne is now working out how best to bring that bill down, with the help of ActionAid, the charity responsible for helping schools with the initiative.

So far, 1,638 schools have put their names down for 10:10, but while goodwill is not in short supply, the charity's Janet Convery says, if they are to see tangible results schools need commitment at the top – and some cash outlay.

ActionAid is currently running workshops for schools that have come on board and need to know what to do next. "The main constraints are time and money," says Convery, who is head of schools and youth. "Whose job is it in the school to do it and who's going to take responsibility for implementing it?

"Some schools have almost evangelical heads who drive this forward. They tend to do the best. Sometimes it's just a very keen teacher. But if they're junior they tend to move around and then a lot of what has been achieved is lost. To make it work, you have to have the buy-in of the senior management team."

Spending might be needed on adapting buildings to make them more energy efficient, but ActionAid's experience is that one of the greatest investments a school can make is in a device that will monitor emissions closely.

Local authorities are now meant to give schools "energy display certificates", with a grading for efficiency and consumption over a year, but the implementation of this seems patchy, says Convery.

And, anyway, a yearly report gives a school and its pupils little to go on when they're trying to work out how they're doing and whether they're likely to hit a target. "The most successful schools monitor it on a much more regular basis than that."

Smart meters are one option, or a device called an ecoDriver that not only measures how much energy is being used and where, but also allows the data to be presented live in the form of graphs and charts, so pupils can analyse it.

At Ashley primary school in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, pupils have been using an ecoDriver for two and a half years with startling results. They managed to cut their electricity use by 50% in the first year, and a further 25% in the second. It now costs the school about £3 a day. Headteacher Richard Dunne says being able to monitor energy use in detail and thus engage pupils by challenging them to meet ever decreasing targets has been vital.

"You can be very well-meaning with energy conservation, put stickers up in classrooms and try to give it a profile, but if you're not sure really what you're measuring and when you're using it it's really difficult to get a sense of your success and where you can go next," he says.

"If you can do data handling, that is, firstly, about the school they're in and, secondly, about something they can change. It's very exciting, compared with just doing a worksheet."

At Argyle school, which needs to cut its yearly energy consumption from 918,750 kilowatt hours to 826,875, Wynne has just persuaded the governors an ecoDriver is what they need. "We know from our performance data that children make the best progress when learning is in a context they can relate to," she says. "They've got the mathematical skills and it's about doing something purposeful with them."

As two ActionAid workers talk to the school council about 10:10, her point is reinforced: the pupils race to use their percentage calculating skills to work out their target for reduced energy consumption.

But the ecoDriver doesn't come cheap: the device can cost up to £3,000 or £4,000, and then £1,000 a year to run. And with the Building Schools for the Future rebuilding programme under review and the sector braced for cuts, finding funding for energy efficiency changes is about to get tougher.

Some schools may be able to get corporate sponsorship but businesses tend to favour microgeneration projects, such as erecting small wind turbines in the school grounds that they can put their names on – "eco-bling" as Convery calls it – which ActionAid says is not as effective at reducing emissions as getting people to change their behaviour.

The charity hopes the new government's own commitment to 10:10 will prove significant in future funding decisions. "They've committed their own buildings to reducing emissions by 10% and that should follow through to public buildings," Convery says. "So we'd hope the funding will follow. With all of these things, it's an investment for the future."

For free workshops (schools only pay travel expenses) email [email protected]

This post was written by Rachel Williams and originally published by the Guardian as part of their ongoing coverage of the 10:10 campaign.

Beneath the soaring ceiling of 4PD class, Susie Price is encouraging her year 4 pupils